“Once upon a time, Macs were fundamentally different from other PCs. They were unique. Today however, under the pretty outer enclosures, Macs are technically no different from any other PC. Heck, they even run Windows! The Mac as an independent platform is effectively dead, so there's no compelling reason left to choose a Mac over any other brand...
There's some kernel of logic there, but it does ignore one or two fundamental issues...
A history lesson
Way back in 1981, a huge corporation called International Business Machines (IBM) launched a new personal computer, which they called... (drum roll) the IBM PC. Clearly, ostentatiousness is not something you could accuse IBM of.
On it ran a command line interface (CLI) operating system, called MS-DOS provided by a little software company called Microsoft. You might have heard of them. Its CPU was sourced from a semiconductor manufacturer named Intel, and IBM designed their new architecture around that Intel 8088 CPU.
As time went by, other manufacturers built their own versions of the IBM PC. These multitude of IBM PC 'clones', simply went on to be known as 'PCs'; a convention that remains today.
Meanwhile, down in California, a company called Apple were building and selling their own PC, called the Apple II, and were working on its replacement. But this replacement was not like the IBM PC, or indeed their existing range of PCs.
This was being designed around a Motorola 68000 CPU. And rather than using the CLI OS as provided by Microsoft, they were instead designing their own which used a ground breaking interface called a graphical user interface (GUI); a concept first pioneered by Xerox, and an evolution of what we know and use today. The Macintosh was launched in 1984.
From this point, the two platforms progressed very differently. The IBM architecture was largely built from off the shelf components that anyone could assemble into a PC capable of running MS-DOS, and later, Windows, which Microsoft was only too willing to licence to anyone who wanted it. At a price, obviously. And just as long as you played the game their way. This may not have been with IBM's blessing per se, but they were powerless to stop it anyway. They had signed away the rights to the golden goose to Microsoft without even realising it.
The Macintosh's more custom architecture however, was much harder to 'clone'. And even if it could have been, Apple weren't going to give the blessing for their OS to run on anyone else's hardware anyway. This would only cannibalise their own hardware sales; just as it did for IBM. And just as it did for Apple during a brief experimentation of 'Mac cloning' during the late 80s/early 90s. The big difference being, Apple had the power to stop what was killing their sales; IBM didn't. And as a result, Apple still make PCs today, whereas IBM does not.
Over the next 20 years, as the IBM 'clones' became the 'standard' architecture, the proprietary nature of the Macintosh became more and more marginalised. This was particularly so of the processor architecture.
The Mac's PowerPC CPU architecture had huge potential, but with Apple as its only PC customer feeding its development, it was not keeping pace with that potential. This in stark contrast to Intel's much older x86 CPU architecture, which was archaic by comparison, but with hundreds of customers feeding its development, the writing was on the wall. The last tie to its proprietary architecture was cut, and the Mac went Intel.
And back to the present
Today, other than aesthetic design and some minor compatibility differences in some areas albeit nothing that software can't work around the Mac is effectively a modern evolution of the IBM PC, to the point that it can even run Windows just as well as a Windows PC can.
But what about the software?
All that has focussed mainly on the hardware. But the Macintosh platform isn't just a collection of components held together with metal and plastic. It's an integration of Apple designed hardware running an Apple designed operating system. And that is just as true today as it was yesterday.
The hardware may be largely generic nowadays, but for all practical purposes, Mac OS is still unique to the Mac platform. It's that which provides the biggest differentiating factor, just as it always has been.
So in summary...
...the Mac platform is made up of some nicely designed, albeit mostly generic hardware. But that's only a small part of what defines it. In the grand scheme of things, it's the OS which more differentiates the platforms, not which brand of processor it has tucked away inside. So whether the Mac is worth choosing over another brand of PC, largely depends on whether you prefer, or see value in Mac OS X or not.
Page content last updated 11 October 2009